There is a plethora of Progressive Rock and Metal bands out there with an ever-growing progosphere to boot. Yet, today’s prog gets dangerously close to the state of being predictive.
Some think good prog needs to be djents, and only djents, plus some high-pitched wailing. Others profess that only chaos will pay homage to the mighty gods of progressive nirvana. Loki preserve us – forsooth!
Now, this year (still) promises great things, like the new pop-infused (shiver…) album of Steven Wilson after his stellar Hand. Cannot. Erase. Not to forget the pretty cool latest piece of work of Lucassen‘s Ayreon that just arrived. And we are looking for counterweights to albums like the much-hyped Haken album and others of the same ilk.
Gentle Knife and their newest album Clock Unwound looked interesting in that respect right from the beginning. And – frankly – at first I did not quite know what to expect. Only cacophony and disaster can come out of an 11-piece ensemble.
A crazed, big band-style contribution perhaps? Then – to top it – they hail from Norway. A place that is usually known for very dark sound waves, rough metal, and whatnot.
But fear not. Gentle Knife project a quietly proficient type of Progressive Rock. Somewhat of a mix between the aforementioned Steven Wilson, Ayeron, Aevintyr, and a pretty good dosing of Ian Anderson – in his post-Jethro Tull solo incarnation. If we take the modern players into account only, but more to that later. All of that is painted in softer, earthier tones and displays none of the harshness that some of the former sometimes like to display.
They lay it on pretty thick with epically charged chunks of prog like Clock Unwound (the title track) with a length of almost 16 minutes that it does not really deserve. Whilst technically outstanding, this track and others display this penchant for endless repetitions and meandering around the soundscape.
And this is an issue rampant throughout the record by the way. Just check Plans Askew and Resignation as well. To the mean listener, this might be a show-stopper, as some of the members of the RMR deck crew very quickly pointed out. Wrapping some progression around the same loop over and over again risks getting you on goofy radio. But does not necessarily increase the value for any track.
Yet again, the tracks themselves mostly command respect. Because – if you like their music or not, Gentle Knife live up to very high standards musically. This high level of technicality can get in the way somewhat. And this leads the band into yet more dangerous, shoal-infested waters. The overwrought level of complexity might indeed ring true to yours truly or other prog nerds. Yet, in the ears of the unsuspecting fan, Clock Unwound may sound overly academically stretched and dissonant to a point.
And they take chances.
The use of the saxophone for instance which is always a dare. Not easy to avoid the jazzy lane, unless you really want to go there. And one runaway track – Smother – marches exactly down that kind of stony road, together with a few dance beats. Let’s not forget the subtle and expert use of other wind instruments, too. Like the transverse flute often handled in the style of Jethro Tull – in Fade Away for instance.
Now, let me point out Resignation, the very last track.
Apart from them pretty much including all instruments into some sort of gentle cacophony, I really like the use of a somewhat dreary monologue. This often kind of ends in disaster, but here the performance is spot-on in light of the title. The melody is left on purpose in a simple repetitive loop with a few interludes and it does underlay the spoken word perfectly. Even if they could have shortened the track some, as opposed to letting it run unchecked for some ten minutes or so.
So, in the end, Clock Unwound serves us with some sort of ’70s and ’80s prog rock that somehow made it to 2017. And did I not detect some Strawbs or Gentle Giant in this tune of theirs? Absolutely. In addition to their modern contemporaries stated above.
Some dull lengthiness with a tendency to gripe notwithstanding, the record lets loose some rare prog with some stellar technically high-standing jewels sprinkled across the tracklist. A band to be watched and surely worth your time if you are into Progressive Rock.
Ed’s note: The record made it onto the Intermittent Digest – Tome VI edition.